(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
The title for this post is sort of click-bait. This is not about Halloween and funny bones. It’s about the final lesson in my Digital Lives unit with my sixth graders, where I talk about bullying in online spaces. While I often try to balance out my Digital Lives unit with lots of positive messages — for all the many ways that technology allows them to compose and connect and learn — this lesson is a bit of hard reality for them.
It’s the only time I will intentionally mention how two students in our area of Western Massachusetts were harassed so much in online spaces that they took their own lives, and how those tragic events triggered the ways we talk about bullying in our state and our schools.
The room gets completely silent and thoughtful, as I see that reality registering in their minds. I see looks around the room when I talk about how police now keep files on students who have engaged in any bully behavior in the school system. I see the seriousness in their eyes, and it feels as if they are too young for all this.
But, of course, they are not too young. They are at the right age for this discussion. Social media is already in their lives, as I know from the survey I did with them and from our discussions.
These sixth graders are heading off to the regional middle/high school next year, where all sorts of new social dynamics kick in, and many of them are already in multiple online social spaces with their smart phones.
I always end with the message of hope and love. Of places where they can turn if they find themselves the victim of online bullying. Of the importance of friends and family. Of us, as teachers, caring deeply for them and being here for them. That they should look out for each other, too, and stand up when needed. To be strong. That despair and loneliness in the face of social media can be countered and dealt with.
Of all the things I said yesterday to my sixth graders, I hope that message is the message they remember the most.
Peace (in the world),